The Bachelor (And Son)

I’ve never been a fan of "reality" television and routinely pass on watching it.  This is partially a result of available time, but also a belief that the presence of a camera kills real spontaneity and personality.  It breeds artificiality.  That said, I find the presence of a three year old child as part of a package deal to be both fascinating and extremely disturbing.  The fact that four of the 25 available bachelorettes are also single mothers only raises both the fascination and disturbance. 

From the clips viewed on both the internet and regular commercials, the child is apparently chipper, cute and sweet and the scenes with Dad are heartwarming.  There are hugs, shoulder rides and curling up for naps and a lot of talk about finding a stepmother for the boy.  Unfortunately, they don’t reveal that Dad Jason is actually divorced and the tike already has a mother, living and breathing and agreeing to this for reasons that only God seems to understand.

On the positive side of the ledger, it does serve to showcase affectionate and positive paternal behavior and could serve as a decent model of how a guy can interact with his son (or daughter).  This is a welcome change from the frequent depictions of television fathers as boorish, rude and out-of-touch; Stephen Collins’ portrayal of Reverend Camden on Seventh Heaven stands out as an exception to this trend.

On the negative side of the ledger, it could represent an unrealistic portrayal of fatherhood.  A three year-old child is at a great age and they can be a much more wonderful experience than a two year-old or fourteen year-old; they are eager and innocent and haven’t yet learned to think of their parent as an idiot-savant.  But the simple reality is that a child also requires a great deal of patience, energy and discipline.  Will they show the Bachelor having to contend with the whinies because the socks don’t feel right or he’s cranky from too much activity and lack of sleep?  Will they show the Bachelor having to oversee a time-out or carry the recalcitrant kid out of the grocery store like a sack of BOGO potatoes?  Real fathers, like real mothers, can and do get testy and exasperated and there’s nothing abnormal about that.

Likewise, I do question whether having a three year-old shown in such a situation is healthy for the kid.  What’s he learning about real courtship and building a real relationship with a woman.  Women being courted do take special care in how they present themselves and want to look their best, but seeing Dad with 25 women who look like beauty queens isn’t a good basis for reality.  Especially when the physically hot-and-heavy moments hit the airwaves.  And how is this being explained to the boy?  That 25 women are competing to be Dad’s new wife – and your stepmother?  Daddy, if you became a polygamist and moved to Utah,  you could have ’em all!  This sets the future stage for a budding-narcissistic personality who expects people to fall all over themselves to be with him.

Honestly, if any woman that I ever dated saw me in that kind of romantic situation with another woman, I’d have been shot.

So when it comes on, I’ll check it out with a great deal of curiosity but not much hope.

Call me CynicalDad.


The PracticalDad After-Christmas Tool Kit

Fathers with children know that while the mother might be responsible for the Christmas purchases and preparation, what happens with gifts after Christmas is often up to Dad.  Toys need assembled and electronics connected and kids being kids, they each want their own thing done first.  So after some years of experience, I have a "toolkit" of things that I make sure are available for Christmas Day and the day after.

The PracticalDad Toolkit

  • Phillips head screwdrivers in regular size – think bicycles and outside toys – and also smaller versions to unscrew the backs of electronic games.
  • A wrench set for whatever outside toys come along – again think bicycles or basketball nets.
  • Several sets of AA, AAA, C and D batteries for the electronic devices.  A good rule of thumb is to count in advance what gifts require batteries and then get approximately four times the numbers of batteries.  For example, if there are three handheld games not requiring a power cord, then purchase 12 AA batteries for use.
  • Several rolls of tape of all varieties.  This not only includes scotch tape, but also duct tape and painters tape.  The painters tape is especially helpful in marking electronic cords that might have to be removed and then reinstalled  with the new TV or other component.  My eldest didn’t take it well when she wanted to just yank the cords from the back of the TV prior to moving it; I explained that systems with multiple components and cables can be truly messed up if the cords aren’t properly placed.  Despite her protest, I’m still waiting for her to do it.
  • Pen and notepaper for keeping a list of what has to be assembled.  The children aren’t usually forgiving when they think that they’re being replaced in the assembly loop and you may actually want to let the kids choose a random number to help decide whose toy is completed first.  This eliminates tne grousing about how "Dad loves Johnny more than me."
  • A supply of zip-lock bags in sandwich and storage sizes to hold gamepieces, action figure parts and trading/playing cards.
  • An envelope for each child to hold money and gift cards.  The contents can be labelled on the named envelope and it can be kept in a central location  so that the contents aren’t thrown out with the trash.  Been there, done that…
  • A large supply of patience.  You’re going to multitask and being kids, they’ll think that the world turns on their ability to play with the presents.  This will also include mouthy, occasionally disrespectful commentary.

As a side-note, it’s helpful to share notes with your mate before Christmas Day’s arrival so that you can have a sense of what’s coming and how to best make things work – scheduling wise, that is.

You’re likely to be tired afterwards, but it’s worth the time and headache and the kids will wonder how Dad is able to manage to put the stuff together so effortlessly.


PracticalDad and Keeping in Touch with the Kids

It’s important to keep the communication lines open with your kids and easy to let them get jammed.  That jamming can be a function of both time and interest as they grow and branch out and you suddenly look at your teen and wonder when did that happen?

It’s easy to find time together with the smaller children.  There aren’t so many activites and they still enjoy playing ball or games with Dad.  And I’ve wondered how to carve out time with the teen; while some think that the teens don’t care to spend time with the old man, I was surprised to get a stray comment from mine about getting together.  She’s involved in sports and other activities and when I’ve the opportunity to do something, she’s been gone.  And vice-versa.  And with the younger ones still about, it’s easier to make their moments happen. 

And I remembered what the friend of a friend did with his teens.  He made it a point to have regular "dates" with his kids, without any other siblings or adults around.  It was their regular "time" and he scheduled it as though it were a meeting or sport practice.  So when my teen was coming home from school earlier than her siblings, I took her to lunch and without the PC or TV, we had a wide-ranging conversation full of the laughter that seems to be lacking in the press of life.

The teen loved it.  It gave us the chance to renew our ties and see her in yet another light as she matures.  It isn’t the Candyland gameboard or the backyard, but it works just as well and it will take it’s place in the monthly calendar.




PracticalDad and Play:  Some Game Guidelines

Your child is in preschool and you’re starting to play simple card and board games with her.  Not all games are created equal and not all kids are ready for the more competitive games that require basic strategic thinking.  What might you keep in mind?

  • The earliest games that you choose should give the child the opportunity to win without being allowed to win.  Children want to do well and show what they can do, so winning does matter to them.  On the other hand, letting them win games for which they are unprepared sets up a bad precedent for a future life.  Games such as Candyland are great since the chance of winning is random and the child has the chance to win without any strategic thought.  You can instead concentrate on more basic skills like taking turns and color recognition.  Checkers is a lousy choice except for the rarest of cases.
  • Not all games accomplish the same thing.  Assemble a variety of games that teach different things in a fun way.
  • How many bells and whistles are there?  Having to constantly install batteries is a nuisance and some games are rendered useless if too many parts are missing.
  • If you have children of different age levels, is this a game that can be enjoyed by everybody?  I was surprised to find that when I had high schoolers to my house for a youth group event, they all took turns playing Candyland.
  • What’s the general time frame on length of play?  If you have limited time, then it’s fair to opt for a game that has a short time frame.

Over the next series of articles, we’ll explore some of the games that are available and what they offer.

Until then, have fun.

PracticalDad and Play:  Part of the Job

It’s evening and you’re home from work, or weekend and there’s a full allotment of chores and jobs to be done.  And your child asks that you play a game with him.  You might think that I’m busy and there’s too much to do.  I can’t spend the time here so he’ll have to play video games/in his room/ etc.  Bear in mind that as a parent, playing with your child is one of your most important tasks.  Apart from the creation of emotional bonds and spending of "quality time", there are practical benefits for both of you.

First, you get an opportunity to see how he’s developing in a number of ways.  How well does he learn the rules and flow of play?  How does he handle early forms of adversity when the game doesn’t go the way that he’d like?  Does he cheat – and trust me, most do after a certain age – and how does he respond to your handling of the consequences of cheating?  Is he picking up habits or phrases from other children as they play games at school?  If it’s a game that he knows but you don’t, how well does he teach you?

Consequently, he gets some practical insights into life.  What happens when someone catches you cheating?  For that matter, does he even know that it’s wrong to change the rules in the course of the game?  That sounds simplistic, but if the children are only learning from playing with other children and not adults who might hold them accountable, then do they really learn honesty and accountability?  Does he have someone help him with some higher level thought processes, such as choosing between competing alternatives?

This was brought home to me this weekend by my first grader, who found a box of Old Maid cards in a Santa stocking from a tree lighting ceremony.  It was a cheap deck and would’ve cost no more than $1.50.  As I glanced at the paper with my coffee and considered the list of chores, he asked if we could play a round of this new game.  I demurred and then reconsidered and wound up playing four hands with him.  What did we get to work on in Old Maid?

  • Each set of cards was labelel with the names of characters.  We practiced putting the dealt cards in alphabetic order to assure ease of matching as the game progressed.
  • What happens when he has the Old Maid card and tries to foist it off on Dad?  His attempts to shift the cards around so that I chose that particular card only doomed him.  Watch what people do and that will give you clues as to where things really are.  Match that against what they really say.  He even learned a poker term, "the tell".
  • Pay attention to detail, because it’s good to know where the Old Maid card was placed if your opponent took it and you don’t want to get it back.
  • Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  Unfortunate, but true.
  • What are the consequences when you decide to unilaterally change the rules?  Life isn’t a round of Calvinball and others will object.

After four rounds of this, I closed up that activity and moved on to the chores.  But the activity was invaluable and gave each of us new insights and information that we didn’t have before.

And the chores still managed to get done.

PracticalDad and Homework

Some important life skills come about through learning to manage schoolwork and homework – time management, self-discipline, consequences – and this PracticalDad fully supports the role of said work.  But it’s a bit of a trial-and-error process in the household since no kids are alike and the one might not be handling it as well as another.  So I have a quiet internal controversy about my role in managing schoolwork and how much I might be helping versus hindering in the long-term.

Technology has permitted parents much greater latitude than our own folks probably ever had.  School systems offer online programs that not only list the current student grades, but also offer teacher comments and daily updated homework assignments.  The message to parents is take advantage of the technology to keep tabs on how your child is doing.  Keep up with the homework and see if he/she’s missing or failing anything.  Stay on top of them since grades matter!

That’s true.  But how far do I take it?

At the upper elementary level, the students are given weekly planners for listing all assignments and upcoming tests and it’s my responsibility to review it daily and sign off to verify that it’s been seen.  Starting at the middle school level, I can visit the daily school district website to remotely ascertain what’s required for homework and tests.

And here’s where the debate arises.  Do I require my child to continue to bring me all of the pertinent work for my review after it’s done?  If so, then I’m assured that everything is being done and can be corrected so that the maximum grades are obtained.  I can also see what the teacher is covering and how material is being approached.  If I know this and think that some remedial work is necessary, then I know how to approach it as well.

But if I don’t review all of the work, then problems might be missed and assignments scotched with resulting poorer grades.  However, my child will learn the lesson of consequences better than if I review everything with him.  The simple reality is that I won’t always be there and there has to be a level of self-sufficiency.

So where do I balance it?  As usual, it depends upon the age of the child.

  • Younger children, through elementary school, have their materials checked daily and the homework is handled before other non-scheduled events occur.  This will include reviewing everything for correctness and completeness.  The thought is that as the child ages and is raised in a particular routine, that routine will hopefully be imprinted on the kid for the future.
  • When they get to upper elementary and middle school, I’ve taken to checking the planner as usual, but no longer review the assignments for completeness and correctness.  They should, by now, have some sense of what’s involved in reviewing their work and will suffer the consequent dings for not following through.
  • With one now in high school, and apparently in control of the coursework, I no longer look at things daily but will go to the system every week or so.  By now, we’ve thoroughly explained that the costs of college will also be met by her own efforts in addition to what we’ve been able to save.  We began this discussion when middle school commenced.  We’ve also continued our insistence that other activities and sports are entirely dependent upon good grades.

And I’m finding that I have to re-evaluate and adjust as needed.  Children are not alike in their skill sets and personalities and I’m having to blur the line as things continue.

Like the rest of fatherhood, this is a highly inexact science and I won’t really know how things went for quite some time.